Immigration Reform Is Driving Republicans Insane

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Today, Dave Weigel passes along the non-news that House Republicans don’t care—at all—about the Senate immigration reform bill. Rep. Peter Roskam, the Republican deputy whip, outlined the reasons for reporters this morning, and it was mostly the same stuff we’ve been hearing about forever. But then there was this:

But the no-go reason Roskam kept returning to was all about electoral politics. “If you’re the White House right now,” he theorized, “and you have a signature law — that is, Obamacare — that is completely a legacy issue for the president, and it’s looking like implementation is going to be a disaster, and if you’re on your heels in terms of these scandals, and you’re flummoxed by the NSA, there’s one issue out there that’s good for the White House. That’s immigration. The question is: How much energy does the White House actually put into getting the legislation, or do they want to keep the issue for 2014?”

It’s a paradoxical theory with a little whiff of projection. Roskam (like many Republicans) was saying that a desperate White House would rather run against Republicans in 2014 on the immigration issue than pass a bill and remove the issue. With that in mind Roskam was saying Republicans would probably kill the bill, thus keeping the issue alive. How far has Obama crawled inside their heads?

Well, either Obama is way inside their heads, or else Roskam is desperately flailing around to figure out a way to avoid having Republicans take the blame for the failure of immigration reform. Maybe a bit of both.

Here in the real world, we know perfectly well why Obama is keeping a low profile: because everyone on both sides of the aisle wants him to. Obama Derangement Syndrome is so virulent on the right that speaking in favor of the bill would almost certainly doom the whole enterprise. That’s the reality of the Republican base these days, and Roskam knows it. We’ve already got Obamacare, Obamaphones, and Obamacars, and this would just add ObamaMexicans to the list.

Of course, the conundrum for House Republicans is that Roskam is right: Killing the bill probably would be good for Democrats in the short run. It would gin up lots of Latino resentment against Republicans and probably help Democratic turnout in 2014. Conversely, passing the bill would be good for Republicans. They wouldn’t get a ton of credit for it right away, but at least it would blunt Democratic efforts to rally the Latino community to the polls. Relatively speaking, that’s a win for the GOP, which would then have a freer hand to set the terms of debate for next year’s midterms.

So we’re faced with a peculiar prospect here. Democrats are fighting to pass a bill because it’s the right thing to do, even though they’ll probably take an electoral hit from it. Republicans are fighting to kill a bill, even though it would be an electoral winner, because a small part of their base hates it. It’s basically electoral suicide because they simply can’t get out from under the tea party elephant that’s strangling the life out of them. They built a monster, and now it’s turned on them.

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